Snap Judgment: The not-quite-triumphant “Return of Jezebel James”

Of the many interesting offerings coming to a TV near you this fall (Hello, Bionic Woman. Nice to meet you, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Come sit next to me, Pushing Daisies.), one I’ve most breathlessly anticipated is The Return of Jezebel James. My excitement can be summed up in two reasons: Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose. OK, one more: Amy Sherman-Palladino.

Parker and Lauren teaming up in a laughfest by Gilmores Girls creator Sherman-Palladino? How could it not be brilliant? How? But after seeing promo clips for the new show, I went from delighted squeals to a deflated confusion. I wouldn’t call it bad, but alas, it’s nowhere near brilliant. At least not yet.

Now, I realize judging an entire series on three minutes of previews is a bit like reading the CliffsNotes and then writing your doctoral thesis. But, you know what, lazy college students do it all the time, so why not tired bloggers? Certainly there is nothing wrong with the show’s premise, which has estranged sister Sarah (Parker), a successful children’s book editor, and Coco (Lauren), an unemployed bohemian, reconnecting when Sarah asks Coco to be her surrogate.

Yet these clips are troubling for a few reasons. And one of the largest is — and it pains me to say this — Parker herself. The former Queen of the Indies has a zany kinetic energy that somehow seems too big for the confines of the small screen. TV is a different animal, especially in front of a live audience, and her performance feels like Acting with a capital A.

Also, they need to kill the laugh track. Seriously, shoot it and bury it behind the shed. Laughter in a can is bad. It’s like meat in a can — so very wrong. The laugh track breaks the rhythm of Sherman-Palladino’s whip-smart dialogue. Or perhaps I’m just spoiled from Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s impeccable bantering skills. By comparison, these exchanges seem off, like actors reading lines instead of living them. Look, even Lauren seems to know the show’s got issues:

I read that Sherman-Palladino herself hates the show’s trailer and it wasn’t even shown at the TCA press tour (see it here). Which was a good call. I mean, why did they hire the silken-voiced movie trailer guy who does those dire “In a world…” voiceovers? Is an asteroid hurling toward Sarah and Coco, too? The good news is that the series won’t begin airing until mid-season, so there is plenty of time for retooling. Plus, all of these problems are entirely fixable. So, with any luck, I might still get a chance to make those girlish squeals of delight after all.